“For The Greatest Benefit To Humankind”

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There can be no question of the contributions that migrants bring to their new homes, both here in the UK and across the world. Evidence of this fact can be seen in the many great cosmopolitan areas around the globe, where countless numbers of people thrive, having been given new opportunities to work and excel that perhaps were unavailable in their homelands. While every migrant, and indeed every human being, undoubtedly has something to offer wherever they may find themselves, here are just a few who have gone above and beyond to win the most prestigious award on Earth for their work; the Nobel Prize. 

Hans Adolf Krebs, Medicine Prize for ‘his discovery of the citric acid cycle‘, 1953

Krebs was born in 1900 to a German family of Jewish descent. He excelled in his early academic studies and established a solid reputation for himself with his discovery of the urea cycle in 1932. The rise of the Nazi Party a year later saw the introduction of the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, which led to all non-Germans and all non-Nazis being removed from professional occupations. Krebs, because of his Jewish background, was officially dismissed from his job. His colleagues immediately worked to support his move to England to continue his research, which he started at Cambridge before later moving to Sheffield, where he became head of the Department of Biochemistry. His work there on cellular respiration (the process from which cells draw energy from food to drive their biological processes) ultimately led to his discovery of the citric acid cycle (now commonly known as the ‘Krebs cycle), for which he received his Nobel Prize. A naturalised British citizen from 1939, he was elected to the Royal Society in 1947 and later knighted in 1958. His Nobel Prize medal was auctioned off in 2017 for £225,000 and the proceeds used to found the Sir Hans Krebs Trust, which provides funding for doctoral students in chemistry or biomedical sciences who have to flee their home countries.

Emilio Segre, Physics Prize for ‘the discovery of the antiproton‘, 1959

Born into a Jewish family near Rome in 1905, Segre studied engineering before switching to physics in 1927, before working as one of the ‘Via Panisperna boys’ under Enrico Fermi, creator of the world’s first nuclear reactor and architect of the atomic bomb, who would himself go on to win a Nobel Prize. In 1938, while on a working trip to California, Segre found himself stateless when Benito Mussolini’s fascists passed a law barring Jews from university positions. He began a lowly job as a research assistant at Berkeley, but the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 led to him joining the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos to develop the world’s first nuclear weapon. In 1944 he became a naturalised U.S. citizen and, following the end of WW2, returned to academia. It was at Berkeley where his team discovered the antiproton in 1955 using a powerful particle accelerator, after decades of speculation over its existence, and for which he won his Nobel Prize.

Har Gobind Khorana, Medicine Prize for the interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis‘, 1968

Khorana was born in 1922 in Punjab, British India. Of his childhood, he wrote ‘…although poor, my father was dedicated to educating his children and we were practically the only literate family in the village inhabited by about 100 people’. The first four years of his education were provided under a tree, which constituted the only ‘school’ in the village. Funding his higher education through scholarships, he eventually worked his way up and became a professor of biochemistry at the University of  Wisconsin, Madison in 1962, where he would complete the work that led to his Nobel Prize. Researching for the American Chemical Society (he became a U.S. citizen in 1966), Khorana was the first scientist to chemically synthesize oligonucleotides. This achievement, in the 1970’s, was the world’s first synthetic gene, and many subsequent generations of scientists continued to refer to his work. A colleague wrote that ‘Khorana was an early practitioner, and perhaps a founding father, of the field of chemical biology. He brought the power of chemical synthesis to bear on deciphering the genetic code‘. The Khorana Program, named in his honour, works to connect scientists and their research in the United States and India.

Charles Kao, Physics Prize for ‘groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication‘, 2009

Born in Shanghai in 1933, Kao’s family later moved to British Hong Kong, where he completed his secondary education. He received a BEng from Woolwich Polytechnic in Greenwich, and stayed in London to complete his PhD studies in electrical engineering. It was in the 1960’s, at Harlow, where Kao and his colleagues carried out their groundbreaking work that led to the introduction of fibre optics as a way of facilitating telecommunications, by demonstrating that the inefficiency of existing fibre optics arose from impurities in the glass, rather than from an underlying problem with the technology itself. The rapid transmission of signals over long distances was and remains fundamental to the flow of information. Glass fibres had been used since the 1930’s, but was unusable for long-distance information transfer due to loss of light along the way. Kao’s solution was to use fibres of very pure glass, which transported sufficient light. Together with laser technology, his work is now applied almost exclusively to transmit data through telecommunications across the world, and laid the foundations for the development of the Internet. Known as the “Godfather of Broadband” and the “Father of Fiber Optics”, Kao held Hong Kong, U.K. and U.S. citizenships and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for much of his later life. His Nobel Prize money was used to pay for his medical expenses, and he and his wife founded the Charles K. Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease a year later to raise public awareness about the condition and provide support for the patients.

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Sub-editor 2019/20. Third Year Neuroscience student with a particular interest in concepts where innovation can translate science-fiction to science-reality

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